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What benefit should I expect from longer chilling of brioche dough? My recipe calls for kneading, allowing the dough to rise until doubled, chilling (without deflating) for one hour, deflating, chilling another hour, deflating by business envelope folding twice, then chilling for at least 6 hours up to two days.

The recipe says longer chilling allows the dough to "ripen". I kind of understand that as it relates to a tangier dough like a ciabatta or certainly a sourdough, but brioche is so cake-like, I can't imagine how "ripening" will affect the flavor? Also, I plan to braid the loaf. Will longer chilling make that easier? Are there any cons to resting/chilling longer than the minimum 6(+2) hours that I should consider?

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3 Answers 3

The effect of long retardation of brioche dough is going to be driven by the same basic processes as in any bread dough:

  • Slowed but longer yeast activity, producing more of the flavorful byproducts (lactic and acetic acids) which give bread the pleasant, yeasty flavor.
  • Gluten development through autolysation, as the glutinan and gliadin react in the presence of water, forming bonds that create the gluten network.

All of these processes will be modified by the extreme levels of enrichment, so there will be less gluten development and less yeast activity than in a leaner dough. I suspect (but do not have a reference to document) that that the enrichment will place a ceiling on the absolute amount of gluten development possible, as the gluten sheets will not able to grow as long and strong as they otherwise would, being physically interrupted by the lipids.

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I'd love to find that perfect balance. I don't care to increase yeasty flavor beyond what I get with a 6(+2) hour chill, but if I'm going to try to braid it, I'm going to need all the gluten development I can get in a loaf with such a ridiculous amount of butter. –  Jolenealaska May 11 at 15:36
    
Actually, gluten can develop a lot, but once you have too much fat in there, it is no longer sheet-shaped. I have even tried getting great gluten first by kneading without the fat, and adding the fat later. The texture changed from something you could twist in a rope and twirl around the room to something more playdoh-like. Braiding was certainly possible in this state, but at the amount of fat I was using (I think 100% or even 120), there was no visible gluten structure. –  rumtscho May 11 at 19:36

You chill brioche dough because you don't want your butter to melt.

Brioche doughs, especially the richer ones, are tricky. You can get the butter inside it, but it requires a lot of handling, and the more you handle it, the hotter it gets due to friction, the temperature of your hands, and the temperature of the air in your kitchen. Warm brioche dough can be too soft to handle, and in the worst case will start weeping butter while it is still being shaped.

This is why it is recommended that you chill your dough thoroughly (and this does mean a few hours in the fridge or overnight) to give the butter the chance to solidify before the final shaping. Of course, the slow gluten development is also beneficial. Especially if you added the butter at the beginning, you probably couldn't develop that much gluten, so the later autolysis helps.

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What I'm questioning is rests longer than the 6 (+2) hour minimum. The need to chill the butter is readily apparent, even the minimal handling the dough requires after the first 2 hour chill is tricky. By 6 (+2) hours, the butter is as cold as it's going to get. –  Jolenealaska May 11 at 15:20
    
There is always the fraction who wants the fermentation taste in all kinds of bread. Personally, I find this nonsensical - fermented flavor is one of a palette available in bread, and trying to achieve it everywhere narrows our taste experience. But it is a popular stance, and maybe your recipe was written by somebody from that camp. –  rumtscho May 11 at 15:22
    
That's kind of what I'm puzzling over. I have no desire for my brioche to taste like sourdough. –  Jolenealaska May 11 at 15:25
    
Your brioche is unlikely to taste like sourdough. I've retarded brioche dough for 24 hours with no noticeable development of lactic acid flavor. There simply isn't enough existing LAB for it to proliferate to the point of a sourdough bread. –  derivative May 11 at 18:21
    
@derivative right, it won't go all the way to tasting like sourdough. But to the extent to which the taste changes, it will change in the direction of sourdough-like. I can confirm that the effect after a day or two is very slight in brioche, as long as you don't overyeast. But "the effect is so small you may not notice it" is not a good argument for retarding in the first place. –  rumtscho May 11 at 19:32

My understanding is that the longer rest time allows the gluten to develop more fully, while the chill will slow down the speed at which the yeast acts, resulting in a more elastic dough.

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Well, more elastic would be a positive for braiding, right? –  Jolenealaska May 11 at 13:55
    
Indeed, it should be. That said, my mother has never chill-rested her challa dough, and they are beautifully braided every single time. –  razumny May 11 at 14:15
    
Challa, while wonderful, is substantially different than brioche, since brioche is enriched with unreasonable amounts of butter that would make challa no longer parve. –  SAJ14SAJ May 11 at 15:08

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